Jul 16, 2019

Homeschool Review Crew: Simply Music

My 13 year old son has recently shown a strong interest in learning to play the piano. He has been teaching himself to play a couple of different songs and is excited to start lessons in the fall. Meanwhile, we agreed to review an online piano course called Music & Creativity - Foundation Course from Simply Music.



The first part of the course is free online. It was easy to sign up and get started. In order to make use of this program, you need a reliable Internet connection, access to a piano or keyboard with at least 61 keys, and ideally a sustained pedal, touch-sensitive and a headphone jack. Earbuds are also a plus.

The course consists of 19 lessons on video, 3 PDF documents of supporting materials, and soundtracks that accompany each lesson. 

The first PDF is simply a precursor to the program, it is for the "parent" (if you are an adult or older teen, this means you) and explains at great length the key to staying committed to your music lessons.

The next PDF is a practice pad keyboard that you can print off and glue together to use as practice. We did not use this, we didn't see the need since he had an actual keyboard to use. 

The last PDF was the one we found the most useful. It is a Reference Book of the notes he draws on his iPad during the lessons. This allows you to refer to them when you practice without having to hunt back through the videos for them.





The soundtracks contain the songs you are learning, so you can practice after you complete the lesson. The goal is to process the information in each lesson thoroughly before you move on to the next. 

Some of the lessons are broken up to several videos and you need to practice and process between each one. When you are ready to move on, you must click a button saying you have completed the video and the next video unlocks. You can go back and mark the video incomplete (if you feel your student moved on too quickly) but it only relocks the next lesson. For instance, if you have marked Lesson 15 as completed and you mark Lesson 12 as incomplete, then it locks Lesson 13 but not 14 or 15.

Now, this program does not teach your student how to read music. It is a playing based approach with the idea that learning to read music only discourages people who just want to learn to play songs. So if you are a beginner, you will feel progress very quickly.

The lessons are not long, averaging about two to five minutes and you can progress as quickly or as slowly as you need to. The instructions are very clear and easy to follow, even, I believe, for a younger child. 


The site is easy to navigate with clearly labeled clickable links. My teenager managed the lessons entirely on his own, of course, but I think a kid much younger could do so as well. Here is a screenshot of one lesson...



The videos are easy to follow along, with clear views of exactly what you need to do on the keyboard and precise explanations of what is expected.



My son has had piano lessons in the past and has taught himself more, so he is not exactly a beginner. He progressed to Lesson 15 before he left for camp last weekend. 

In the interests of full disclosure, this program was not a hit with him. He really wants to learn music, so the method wasn't a good fit for him. It was a struggle for me to get him to work on this daily and even though he moved quickly through the lessons, he felt they were not fast enough for him. But if you or your student are looking for a method that gets you playing real songs quickly and easily, this would be for you! Especially since it is free. Check out what other Crew Members thought by clicking on the banner below 



Learn to Play the Piano with Music & Creativity - Foundation Course {Simply Music Reviews}




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Jul 11, 2019

Homeschool Review Crew: The Heart Changer

Reviews for books are always the most fun. I have always loved reading. I love to read all sorts of books, but my favorite are Biblical fiction. I love when people bring Bible stories to life and put flesh (so to speak) on the sometimes one-dimensional seeming characters in the well known stories. So I was pleased to be able to review The Heart Changer by Jarm Del Boccio, Author.

For the purposes of this review, we were sent a free paperback copy of The Heart Changer.


The Heart Changer  is the story of the "young maid from Israel" found in 2 Kings chapter 5. In the Bible, she is given two verses. One explains that she had been stolen from her country and was now in slavery to a foreign mistress. The other shows her offering a solution for her master's problem of leprosy. 

The Heart Changer  expands those two verses into a full on story of the little slave. It tells the story of Miriam, stolen from her home and her family, carried off into a strange land and forced to serve the very people who so wronged her. It tells the story of her fight against bitterness and anger and her struggle to obey the words of Jehovah, to be loving and kind to the people who mistreat her. For although she does find kindness in Naaman's household, there is also a girl who lies to her and about her simply to get her into trouble.

In the end, however, Jehovah wins in her stubborn heart, and, with the memory of the wise words of  love and acceptance from her Ima (mom) and Abba (dad) echoing in her thoughts, Miriam offers advice to her mistress. Tell Naaman to go to the prophet Elisha who will cure him of leprosy!

Not to offer spoilers, but Naaman does travel to the prophet, swallows some pride and is cured. Miriam's story also ends happily with a reunion with her much missed family. 

This is a good, safe book for children. It was a quick, easy read for me, an adult. And it only took my kids a sitting or two to get through the entire book. I think it's intended target of middle school aged children is spot on. It tells the story simply, addressing Miriam's attitude and transformation but doesn't delve into the horrors of war, slavery or idol worship. Miriam misses her family, but is not beaten, starved or even spoken to harshly by her arrogant new owners. Human sacrifice is mentioned but isn't delved into deeply, so only the most sensitive of children would be affected by the topic. 

We were also given a free download of the Teacher's Guide for The Heart Changer. This was a 12 page PDF that contained a short interview with Jarm Del Boccio, telling us more about her and also more about her main character, Miriam. 

Then there are some questions about Miriam for you, the reader, to answer. For example: When could you see Miriam’s heart beginning to change?

And some questions about you: Which character did you relate to the most? Why?

There is information about the setting, questions for you to research the answers to, links to some Bible studies, and some Syrian food recipes that would be fun to try.

This guide is free and you can find it at the bottom of the webpage where you buy the book

We recommend this book as an enjoyable Biblical fiction choice for middle schoolers and even some older elementary kids. You could even read it aloud to the entire family. 


The Heart Changer {Jarm Del Boccio, Author Reviews}



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Jul 6, 2019

Independence Day

Food, Fun, Family, Friends, Fireworks:

all the best things about the Fourth! 

I would also like to point out that I beat 3 out of 3 of my kids at tether ball! Mama still rules!










Jun 26, 2019

Trials of a Teacher

Me: (explains difficult concept in writing camp) Ok, so, do you understand? Does anyone have any questions?
Little Girl: Yes! I have questions!
Me: What are your questions?
Little Girl: How did they sink the Titanic?
Me: Uhhhh... Do you have any questions about this (gesturing to diagram on board)?
Little Girl: No.
Me: Well, ok then. Let's go on.
Little Girl: But I really want to know about the Titanic!
Me: Well, you are going to have to ask your mom because this is writing camp, not History camp.
Little Girl: Oh, ok

Jun 20, 2019

Schoolhouse Review Crew: Jump In!

Writing is a subject that I love to teach but that I have found very few kids love to learn. Even the kids that like to write do not enjoy learning how to write. So I am always on the lookout for programs that make it fun for kids. I was excited to get a chance to review the brand new Jump In, 2nd Edition from Writing with Sharon Watson.

I used the first edition many years ago with my two oldest children, back when they were first embarking on middle school. As I recall, my daughter enjoyed it and my son, well, he didn't hate it. I was interested to see what the second edition of the program would look like with my own "second edition" of middle schoolers. 

As it turned out, I used this program with my 12 year old daughter for a few weeks this summer. They sent us the digital edition, which comes as a PDF download. I usually prefer physical products but this was perfect in the digital with just the two of us working on it together.

The program consists of a Teacher's Guide and a Student Book. 




The Teacher's Guide is 123 pages. It contains sample schedules for if you want the program to take your child one, two, or three years. For younger children, you can draw it out over three years. For older children, you can use the one-year schedule that tells you what are the most important parts to teach your student. Or you can aim for something in between. 

The Teacher's Guide contains a list of the assignments given to the student, and a "backpack" of helpful tools and tips you need to guide your child through the program. These are helpful for teaching your student to proofread and how to help them find mistakes in their writing. It lists the steps of writing your child is being taught in their own book. It gives six reasons why kids hate to write and what you can do about each of them. There are forms, suggestions and do/don't lists which show up in your student's book as well. There are grading rubrics of a sort, showing you what a A, B, C, D and F paper actually look like and why. 

Then there are the 10 minute Writing Plunges. These are writing prompts. There are sixteen prompts for each month, starting in September and ending in May (December only has eight prompts). These prompts are sorted into weeks, with four per week. And some examples of them are:

Write a blurb for your favorite book
The next time I get the chance I am going to...
Write a section of the story of Snow White from a dwarf's point of view
What bugs you? Write a poem about it
I can't wait to be older so I can...
Describe the sequence of events in a thunderstorm. The day starts out sunny. Take it from there. Use as many senses as possible. Rainbows are optional!

These prompts are intended as practice and/or review for the concepts taught and as just another way to get your child writing daily. You can take a break from the lessons for awhile and just do prompts or you can pull them out on Fridays for "fun" or use them any other way you like!

The Teacher's Guide wraps up with the Answer Key for the questions in the Student Book and a Grading Grid for each of the papers assigned.




The Student Book is written directly to the child. It contains 98 lessons (called Skills) with another 19 skills that are assignments and checklists. This book is 292 pages, so while you could print it, I did not. I printed out a copy of the pages she needed to write on and she read the other pages straight off the screen.



True to it's name, the book jumps right into the first lesson asking the child their opinion on writing. This segues right into teaching how to brainstorm, how to write a rough draft and then, suddenly, before they even know it they have the raw material at their fingertips and are busily writing away on their first paper, an opinion paper.  


Each skill is a page or two of reading and then a few questions to answer. (My daughter and I did have a conversation on answering in complete sentences, if she can do it in science she can do it in writing!)



Every so often (the tenth, twelfth, sixth) an assignment is given and the student writes the actual paper they have been learning to write. They are given a few options to choose from (having a choice is always best for getting cooperation out of kids!)  and a suggested schedule on how to get the job done.



There are also checklists with questions like these:

Does my essay have an interesting title?
Does my opening sentence or paragraph grab the reader’s attention by making an interesting point, stating a fact, using a quotation, telling a story, or asking a thought-provoking question?
Does the introduction include the topic and my view of the topic?
Does my essay get to the point quickly?
Does it stick to the point (not go off the topic)?
Are all of my points geared to persuade readers?

For my twelve year old daughter, who is fairly good at writing, this was a fun, low-stress curriculum. We sat down together and did a little bit each day. She was able to complete a skill in about 15 to 20 minutes or sometimes less. Sometimes she did more than one skill a day. I didn't push because we are on summer holiday and this was meant to be a fun review. She did have fun and she learned a lot.



Around here, we love Sharon Watson. My older daughter adores her Lit. programs. We enjoyed the first edition of Jump In and also the shiny new 2nd Edition!

I love the variety of papers that are taught. Everything from nine types of essays to newspaper articles to poetry to book reports to stories to how-to manuals. 

I love that it is open and go.

I love that is is simple and painless for my kid who really doesn't even know how much she is learning because she is busy having fun.

I would recommend this product for middle school kids who need quick and easy but meaningful writing instruction. Unless your child is a VERY reluctant writer, this would be a good way to ease them into actually enjoying writing. 

But you don't have to just take my word for it, click on the banner below to read what other Crew members have to say!


Jump In, 2nd Edition {Writing with Sharon Watson Reviews}

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Silence is What???

When your four toddlers are all mysteriously silent it fills your heart with dread... What are they into? You wonder with panicked heartbeats as you envision glue all over the school room floor or scissors slicing though curls.
When your four teens are all mysteriously silent it fills your heart with dread... Are they sleeping? Are they growing? You wonder with panicked heartbeats as you envision an empty refrigerator and another clothes shopping trip.

Silence is NEVER golden.

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